Case Study: Boss Gacii
By Chris Green
As published on the iNews website.
United Glasgow was set up in 2011 as a means of fighting the isolation and exclusion felt by refugees and asylum seekers as they arrive in the city, often without family, friends, or any knowledge of English.
The club’s growth since then has been remarkable. Twenty-five people turned up to the first training session and United Glasgow now has three men’s 11-a-side teams and a women’s team. Around 65 different nationalities have been represented at some stage, united under the club’s two guiding principles of anti-discrimination and financial inclusion.
Many of the players have come from war-torn countries and arrive at training with no boots, tracksuits or any means of payment – but all are welcome.
The club largely relies on donations to cover its costs, only charging players £1 per training session if they are working. Some pay more, to make up for those who cannot pay at all.
One member of the squad is Taha, who arrived in Scotland in May having left his home country of south Sudan due to the ongoing civil war. With no family or friends in Glasgow, he decided to join the club a month after arriving.
“I left because of the war in the south – it was too dangerous for me,” he says.
“The first time I came here, my English was terrible, but it has helped me learn because my friends, they all speak English and help me practice the words. I can also speak a little bit of French and Arabic.”
He adds that playing for the club has helped him settle in Glasgow, which he found a totally alien place when he first arrived.
“It was very difficult for me. I couldn’t speak, I was so shy,” he says. “Number two: the weather. Glasgow and Africa are pretty different. When I arrived I didn’t know anyone, but now all my friends are in the team.”
Pacing the touchline is Boss Gacii, 19, who was born in Burundi but moved to Kenya when he was still a child.
He came to Scotland in September in 2015 when his mother, who had already moved to Glasgow, became sick and was unable to take his little brother to school.
“The weather is killing, but I’m used to it now,” he says with a smile.
“Everyone loves to play football, but they don’t all get that chance. The first time I came here I didn’t have anything – boots, or clothes for playing – so they gave me some and helped me out.”
The club relies on supportive local businesses and individuals donating football kit to help people like Boss, who are keen to play but may not have the means to do so.
Organisers are always on the lookout for new donors, as demand is high.
“I’ve made many friends here,” Boss adds. “When I first came I didn’t know anyone but you meet people here and they become your friend.
“Everyone is from different countries and speaks different languages, so when a new person arrives you have to speak to them and learn to understand them.”
One of the coaches taking the training session is the club’s founder Alan White. Doing his best to explain the club’s philosophy in between bellowing orders from the touchline, he says that while it started as a means of supporting asylum seekers and refugees, it also encourages locals to join.
“We quickly realised it was a good tool to bring people together who wouldn’t otherwise have met,” he says.
“We started to bring in a lot of young local Glaswegian guys who maybe were in some of the same boats in terms of not being able to afford football. It gives them the opportunity to meet the sort of people who otherwise they might only hear about through the Daily Mail or the Sun.”
Being part of the club also allows some of the players to forget the stresses of organising their asylum cases and the fear that they may be sent back to their home countries, he adds.
“It allows them to switch off for 90 minutes and no longer be an asylum seeker or an immigrant – just a footballer.”